Salmon Crackers

Submitted into Contest #27 in response to: Write a short story that ends with a twist.... view prompt

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Mystery


The woman across the room is staring at you, the one with yellow hair and emerald earrings. You pretend not to notice, sipping casually at your wine. She’s cute, you suppose, although not really your type. You preferred brunettes.

They keep on coming up to you and saying how sorry they are. That’s all you hear- sorry for your loss, sorry he had to go, sorry you have to endure this, sorry, sorry, sorry. You want to scream at them. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t sorry too.

You readjust your hat, which is uncomfortable for an indoor setting. You think about how Murray would be laughing at you right now, comparing your discomfort to some other ‘hilarious’ situation you experienced. 

But Murray’s not here- at least not in the opinions of all those Sorry birds flitting around you. “We’re so sorry he’s gone,” they chirp, with dozens more apologies written on their feathers. “We’re so sorry you’re all alone. So, so sorry.” They clutch their own spouses tighter, hoping they won’t end up like you, dressed in somber black, all alone at the deathday party, telling people that you’ll be fine, you’re sorry he’s gone too. Which he isn’t, at least not yet. He’s just over there, in a box with coins over his eyes and poison down his throat. You could lift the lid and take a peek if you wanted. You invited his nasty sister to do so, since she kept saying how she missed him so much. You got a scandalized look and the silent promise she wouldn’t be visiting you anymore.

Not that you cared.

The priest is stepping up onto the podium, clearing his throat with a sound like chalk snapping. He shuffles his papers around in a display of importance, then props his glasses up and begins to read Murray’s eulogy. 

You hate how everyone keeps looking over at you during the speech, some with pity, others wondering why you aren’t up there instead of that dreadful priest, who didn’t even know Murray at all! Why would you, his beloved wife, let this go on? You resist the urge to roll your eyes and notice the blond glancing over at you again. She’s wearing pretty little green glasses to match her earrings.

“I want my funeral to be a happy occasion,” the priest reads. “I want people to smile at the legacy I have left behind. Don’t feel sad- I’ll see you all again someday!”

You snort. Why would people bother coming to a funeral if they weren’t going to be sad? When you died, you didn’t want people to be laughing about the life you didn’t have anymore. You wanted people to feel pain that you had to leave when they didn’t.

“I’d like to dedicate my final words to my sister, whom I love very much. To my parents, who did everything they could for me. To my best friend George for having my back all these years, and to everyone else I’ve known and loved. And to my wife- Irene, for always being there.”

What a plain eulogy. You remembered that day when you’d encouraged him to sit down and write one. You pointed out that he never knew what could happen- wouldn’t it be better to have your final words out there in case of disaster?

Murray said he wasn’t going to die anytime soon. He was wrong.

“I can’t wait to see you all again someday. That doesn’t mean I want you to die too, it just means I love you all so, so much.”

The words were stiff, the tone bored and reeking with annoyance. You wished Murray were here so that you could point out that you were right.

Soon it was time for the reception, with people murmuring respectfully to each other and choking on crackers covered in whipped salmon. You sit off to the side, noting the holes in the decorum, nibbling on a slice of rich cheese. Murray used to love it, you remember.

“Hello.”

You look up and it’s the blonde, in a slim black dress, with those cunning little glasses. Her hair is short and curly and she smiles at you nervously. “Hi.” you say.

“I’m sorry for your husband,” she says, sliding beside you on the bench. “It must have been so awful for him to die like that. And so young. I bet you two had lots of plans for the future.”

 You shrug and take a sip of your drink. “ Murray was the big planner, not me.”

“Uh, right.” She sounds nervous. The two of you sit in silence for a few minutes before you realize you’ve never seen her before in your life. “Sorry. What’s your name?”

“Charlotte,” she said. “I knew Murray from the gym. He was... in my spin class.”

You hoped this wasn’t codespeak for ‘his mistress.’ “Who invited you?” you ask her warily. 

“I, uh, knew his sister a little, and wanted to- to… pay my respects. He was very nice,” she added in a rush, as though worried what you would think of her.

“He was, wasn’t he.” You shift in your chair. Your dress is riding up. “The more the merrier.” 

Charlotte relaxes as though sure her sin has gone unnoticed, and you’re certain Murray knew her from someplace beside the gym. She hesitates, then reaches over to pat your hand in a way that manages to be both smug and a little guilty.As uncomfortable as you are with her, you have to admire her bravery in coming to talk to you. You sit in silence for a few minutes, absorbing the satisfaction that with Charlotte’s company no one is coming up to you for another tearful conversation. You watch a group of Murray’s chubby aunts gather in the corner to exchange fresh tissues, while their husbands bump each other uncomfortably with their large potbellies.

“Sorrybirds,” you mutter.

“What?” 

“Nothing.”

Charlotte hesitates. “Can I ask you something a little personal?”

“Go ahead,” you say, eyeing her.

“I’ve been watching you all afternoon, and you don’t seem… very upset. I haven’t seen you cry once. Are you… I mean, is there anything I can do?...”

You sigh and swirl the dregs of your drink around in your glass. “It’s just hard to take in, I suppose. I grew up in a very traditional family, and I had my marriage to Murray arranged. I met him when I was twelve, and we married at eighteen.” You shrug. “It’s not hard to see that I never loved him. Never really liked him, to be honest. And after living under, ‘his house, his rules’ for so long, it’s strange to be free. I’m not really sure what I do now. Never went to college, because I married young. Never had a job. Never even paid taxes myself or left the city. I’m twenty-seven, I’m widowed, and I don’t know what to do.” You turn to look at her, and her face is annoyingly sympathetic. You choose to ignore it. “I’m sort of glad he’s gone,” you continue. “I wouldn’t have had the chance for my own life if he wasn’t. But it’s all just a mess.” You bite into one of the salmon crackers and immediately spit it out. “Ugh.”

“Huh,” says Charlotte after a minute. “That does sound rough. I'm sorry.” 

“S'okay.”

The two of you sit there quietly, absorbing the chatter around you, absorbing your thoughts. You haven’t quite stepped back to look at the situation yet, and you’re suddenly angry at yourself for making Murray leave like that. You’re alone now, and it was only your fault. 

Finally Charlotte asks, “Well, what are you going to do first with your... new life?”

You stand up and stretch. “Uh, dunno. What do normal people usually do?”

“Whatever they want,” Charlotte says simply.

You study her a moment, taking in the traces of worry on her face: the wondering if she said the right thing, daring to come to this funeral at all, anxiousness about talking to the wife of the man she cheated with. 

“Excuse me,” you say. You make your way through the crowd, bumping occasionally into mourners. You pause to listen to them recount stories of Murray, of his kindness, his good deeds. What a nice person he was. How tragic his death, what an unfortunate incident. 

You make your way outside and sit on the bench, staring into the yard. You wonder if you’ll feel any sort of grief, or remorse, for his death and the way he died. You don’t think so.

You sigh and trace your fingertip on the outside of your glass. I’ll just have to work through it. You know your family won’t be any help, they’ll just be telling you to get another husband. No credentials is bad, but you’re smart enough to handle Murray, you’re smart enough to get into college. You can take a small job on the campus, move in with a friend or your cousin right in the middle of the city. There are things to do to get your life on track, and there’s hope swelling in your chest, hope that you can do them. 

But today you lean back and grieve quietly for what was easy and what was simple, listen to the tears fall and drown in a sea of black, listen to them munch on salmon crackers, swirl their wine, talk, talk, talk and talk. 

Later after everyone has left, you’re cleaning up the house and come across an old photo, dropped from some aunt’s purse most likely. You pick it up gently.

It’s you and Murray, standing together on his porch. You’re wearing a big sunhat and flowery dress, your face freckled from summer and your red hair tucked neatly over your shoulder. You’re smiling wide, Murray’s arm around your waist.

You take a moment to look at him, his dark hair tousled, his acne standing out, his crooked teeth and shy grin. He looks happy. Both of you do. You remember that day, with the picnic, where he chased you around the pond and tickled you and accidentally brushed your boob (the first sign that you might be gay; the lack of reaction you had to the incident) then everyone settling down for pie and ice cream, watching the sun set.

That was a happy day. He was a happy person. You remember liking him a lot back then, the charming stranger from the nice family. So funny, so caring, before he turned into a tyrant.

You stand, smoothing the creases of your skirt and let the picture fall into the trash. It was a shame that moment didn’t last, didn’t carry into your marriage. Maybe it could have, if the both of you had worked harder. Maybe with more willingness to be together…

You look into the trashcan at the picture. Maybe there had been a way for the two of you to love each other, if you'd tried.

The thought almost makes you feel bad for killing him.

Just the tiniest pill, into a whipped salmon cracker. Harmless, really. It could have been anything. Choking. Seizure. Heart attack. Besides, why would his beloved wife, who was hysterical in tears when the police arrived, and who sobbed his name over and over ever hurt him?


February 07, 2020 20:46

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3 comments

Carolyn Mc Bride
15:43 Jun 16, 2021

Great twist, good story!

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Valerie Larouche
18:22 Feb 13, 2020

Lovely story! I like how she cannot bring herself to feel sad. It's really different. Nice job!

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Waverley Stark
20:01 Feb 13, 2020

Thank you very much. I enjoyed your story too, like I said. And thank you for reading mine- it was really nice of you!

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